RACING TO WIN
If anyone could vouch for the difficulties involved with being a dedicated follower of Jesus Christ, it was Paul.† He knew that navigating through turbulent spiritual waters takes great dedication and focus.† One of the images Paul used to help describe the Christian journey was as if he were in a race.†† His description is not just one of being a race participant, but a participant who ran with a specific mindset Ė donít just race, but race to win.† Paul wrote the following words in scripture to provide an image for how this should be done.
1 Corinthians 9:24-27
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air.
8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faithó 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. 12 Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13 Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 15 Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. 16 Only let us hold true to what we have attained.
The Bible instructs us to include individual disciplines like obedience, prayer, and bible study to build personal strength necessary for winning.† However, even though the Christian race is difficult personally, we arenít supposed to run with only an inward focus.† It is a race where it is just as vital for us to interact with others - those who donít believe in Christ, and those who do.†† As we have seen in the life of Paul and the early church, racing to win includes the desire to reach the lost for Christ, and it includes the necessity of having fellowship with other believers to encourage one another to press on towards victory.
Today we are going to look at two passages that deal with this outward focus of Racing to Win.†
The first scripture is probably the one we most often think of regarding the interaction that Christians have with non-Christians Ė the Great Commission.† Letís read it in full, then break it down into key pieces.
Matthew 28:16-20) But the eleven disciples proceeded to Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had designated to them. 17 And when they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some [f]were doubtful. 18 And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, ďAll authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. 19 [g]Go, therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to [h]follow all that I commanded you; and behold, I am with you [i]always, to the end of the age.Ē
We can see that the description Jesus provided for what He wanted His disciples to do includes a few key components, which weíll talk about in a minute.† But on the other hand, Jesus didnít lay out every detail for how the Great Commission was to be accomplished. He didnít provide specific words or a key phrase to use.† He didnít say whether this should be done in homes, street corners, or churches.† He didnít say whether to interact with people younger than you, older than you, or your peers.† No Ė Jesus left believers free to spread the gospel to those they encountered, in a way that aligned with their passion, skills, and circumstances.††
People come to Christ in a lot of different ways.† For example, Frank the Christian may use a certain strategy to interact with Susan the non-Christian at a specific time and place where nothing of any apparent spiritual significance occurs. But done differently at another time and place, it may.† If he doesnít have much success sharing the message of Jesus to Susan, Frank may move on to Wendy the non-Christian. Meanwhile, Susan the non-Christian may be approached by Dave the Christian, and she will come to Christ because of that interaction.
Letís talk about the guidelines Jesus provided in the Great Commission.
1. Go Ė As we have learned from the book of Acts, the disciples did just that.† As a result of Christís command, the message of who Jesus is began its spread with these original disciples in Israel and over the course of 2,000 years has been brought to the farthest most reaches of the earth.† Disciples of varying degrees of spiritual maturity exist just about everywhere. There are believers in modern, wealthy countries, and in poor third world countries.† There are believers in places that are dominated by other religions like Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Paganism, or Atheism.† There are Christians living in places that operate under the philosophies of secularism, socialism, communism, and capitalism.† The spread of the message of Jesus even resulted in the United States of America being built upon many fundamental beliefs of the Christian faith.†
However, as our country approaches 250 years of existence, less and less people know who Jesus is.† 25 years ago, if someone living in this country found out a person was a person Christian, the reaction was often ďno thanksĒ or a scoff under their breath.† Today, it is common for the reaction to be filled with anger or retribution.† In other words, if we want to get on road towards finding and making disciples, we donít have to go very far.
With that being said, Iíd like to introduce you to Justin and Stephanie Mcfarland, two younger married followers of Christ and several friends who are embarking on something bold right here in our community.
Now letís look at the remaining components of the Great Commission.
2. Teaching them - The life of a disciple of Christ is always filled with learning.† Paul told Timothy to study to show himself approved to God, so obviously there is value in learning through personal study of the Bible.† But as we see from scripture and personal experience there is also value in being taught individually by more mature believers.† When teaching and learning is done with one or more other people, personal struggles can be shared, life lessons can be passed down, and encouragement can come as one realizes he is not racing alone.
3. What are disciples to be learning?† The things Jesus commanded, His word.† The things Jesus did and the way He acted were surely key factors that the original apostles took notice of that caused them to believe Jesusí was the Messiah.† However, His word was the foundation of those actions (John called Jesus the word).† As a follower of Christ, I like to think I lead a pretty good lifestyle that reveals how Jesus can change a person a person from the inside out, but sometimes what I say and do isnít the greatest reflection of Him.† On the other hand, the Word of God never changes Ė it is the foundation that our faith is built upon.
4. How much of Godís word should a disciple be taught? ALL.† Obviously, new believers should be fed things appropriate to their spiritual age.† For example, what Jesus said to Nicodemus and how he said it to, was different from what Paul said and wrote to Timothy.†† No Christian, whether young or old ever gets to a point where they know it all, and surely no one ever applies it perfectly.† But a disciple needs to keep learning more, both in quantity and in quality.† They need to move from an infant surviving on baby food, to maturity by learning the deeper things involved in scripture.† In 2 Timothy 3:16-17 Paul reminded the young disciple Timothy that ď16 All Scripture is inspired by God and beneficial for teaching, for rebuke, for correction, for training in righteousness; 17 so that the man or woman of God may be fully capable, equipped for every good work.Ē†† In other words, we not only learn that ďJesus loves me for the Bible tells me soĒ, but we also learn that ďJesus will judge me for the Bible tells me soĒ.
5. Baptize new believers Ė Someone who is getting started on their journey in Christ needs to have learned enough about who Jesus is to know they are making the most important commitment of their life.† They need to know Jesus isnít some kind of daily vitamin you take to help you get through your day.† In reality a believer in Christ must put off their old life and begin a new one.† Baptism is a response that makes this distinction evident.† New believers should respond with an honest, repentant, public profession of their faith.
Even though many people have come and gone throughout the existence of what we call Shoreline Community church, as a whole weíve known about this directive called the Great Commission.† We have sought to accomplish it both individually and as a fellowship.†† Those who were involved in the launching of Shoreline community church 30 years ago had passion, vision, and embarked on the ďGoĒ part of the Great Commission.† As younger believers, we sought to bring message of Christ to the unchurched or marginally churched.† Even today, we still have the desire for lost people to come to Christ.†† Weíve even learned about another group of younger believers about to embark on this same thing in our community.
As believers seek to do what Jesus commanded His disciples, they will encounter success, failure, learn lessons, gain maturity, and experience life changes.† By the time a person reaches the age of 50, after having been a believer for many years should have learned a lot.† One of the things they may have noticed at their older age is it now seems harder to GO.† Sometimes it is just hard to get out of bed, let alone go anywhere.† Thatís not an excuse that should keep us from being involved in the Great Commission, but it is a fact of life.†
Jesus knew all about the dynamics involved with making disciples and building His church.† When He began His ministry, He didnít do it alone.† Instead, he found people to join in.† Who did He originally choose?† Eager young men with energy.† Jesus knew that it made more sense to recruit fisherman on the beach, rather than domino players at the nursing home.†
Yes, older believers can still be used by God in mighty ways if they so desire.† But, even on those days when we do have the energy, our changing individual worlds or lifestyles bring a different set of challenges as we attempt to find an audience.† When you are young and employed, you might share the gospel with co-workers, but after retirement that opportunity has largely passed.† As a young parent with kids in the household, you can pray with them, teach them, and bring them to church.† But when your children grow up, move away, and start a life on their own, that opportunity has largely passed.† If you try to reach out to a younger person you may feel like you donít have much in common.† To the older generation, ďTick TockĒ is the sound a grandfather clock makes, not some activity you do on a phone.† With every passing year, it seems as if your circle of influence shrinks as friends and family pass away.
Whether you are a young believer or old, bring the good news of Jesus to others as passionately and creatively as you can, but within the guidelines of scripture.
GATHERING WITH CHRISTIANS
Now letís look at the aspect of Racing to Win that involves the interactions that believers have with each other.†† Thirty years ago, when this fellowship began, it emphasized the GO.† And while we saw some baptized, in a lot of cases we didnít see more than that.†† We only shared portions of Godís word with those we attempted to reach.† Spiritual infants remained spiritual infants.† The concept of discipleship wasnít emphasized as it should have been Ė neither in those we were attempting to reach, nor in our own lives.†† During those initial years it was as if we were following a script for how we expected people to come to Christ through our ministry.† But, after a while it became apparent some things were missing. God began adjusting the script.†††
For one, we started to have a better understanding of the importance of discipleship that included not only evangelizing, but also moving people down the path to spiritual maturity.†† One of the ways Shoreline Community Church changed direction is that we spent the next 25 years focusing on becoming learners and doers of Godís word, and, encouraging individuals to pass those things on to others within our spheres of influence.† We all know what a great passion pastor Jerry had in this area and how it influenced us.
Another way the script changed many years ago was that we learned while one is involved in the process of making disciples, life does not stop.† While on one hand we were young, strong, and enthused about Jesus, we still had the stress that came with occupations, building marriages, raising kids, dealing with sickness and death, and battling with sin in our hearts.†† In other words, we began the race running mostly on adrenaline, but we learned that the race is long and not for the faint of heart (like hiking up a mountain with no water).††
After having been involved in sports as a young man, I was on the receiving end of many inspiring pregame speeches and pep rallies that were intended to spur us on to victory.† In some ways, Hebrews 10:19-23 is kind of like that.†
(Hebrews 10:19-23) Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.
Donít these words give you a sense of confidence, a burst of energy, urging you to go out and do something for God?†† Yes, but the passage continues by letting us know that we need to include execution to our inspiration.
(Hebrews 10:24-25) And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one anotheróand all the more as you see the Day approaching.
What is described in verses 24 and 25 was another part of the equation that our original Shoreline vision was lacking 30 years ago Ė emphasis on the gathering of believers.†† Fortunately, over time we have learned the importance of this part of the race.† Our gatherings now include more time devoted to praying for each other, studying the Bible, singing all kinds of songs, hymns and spiritual songs with joyful hearts, and meeting together other than on Sunday morning.††
But even today, letís take a minute to do what Hebrews 10:24-25 says.† Letís consider whether our gatherings can be even more effective.† Letís consider wither there are additional ways it can be done. Letís consider whether there are other believers to do it with.† Similar to what we did with the Great Commission, letís break down these verses to see what we can learn about gathering with believers.
1. Relationships with other believers are vital.† Every human, including non-Christians, desire companionship and to be loved.† But take notice of the numerous examples in the Bible that highlight the necessity and importance of Christian relationships.† God exists in three persons with a perfect relationship between God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.† God said that it was not good for Adam to be alone.† Paul always had companions on his missionary journeys.† Jesus is rarely mentioned in the context of Him being alone.† The vast majority of the time He was with someone.
2. Gather together regularly.† If youíve stopped gathering or do it only when you are in the mood, the pace of your spiritual race will slow to a crawl.† There are numerous reasons why people stop gathering.† When these verses were written the author may have known about people in New Testament times who stopped gathering because they feared persecution. Some believers may have found themselves in a location where it was difficult to find other believers.† Some of them may have thought their mastery of the Old Testament scripture would carry them through.† Or, they may have just been too tired from work long hours in the fields.† Today, people stop gathering because they are too tired from working in the office, or they think they know the Old and New Testament well enough.† Who needs to gather in person, when you can sit in the comfort and safety of home listening to a teacher on the TV or the internet?† People† stop gathering when they canít find anyone who likes the songs they do, a speaker they like, those they are comfortable with, or the opportunity to fill a specific role they desire. People may even stop gathering for meaningful encouragement with believers because they are too busy with personal ministry, or because they spend all their dealing with the administration and red-tape of their local church organization.†† Gather regularly.
3. Believers should gather for the purpose of mutual spurring or encouraging.† Spurring or encouraging is necessary because the Christian race is not easy - we run it as imperfect people in an imperfect world.† The spurring is also mutual.† When you show up to a gathering of believers it should be your goal to spur someone else on in their faith.† And vice versa, you should be gathering with someone who will spur you on in your spiritual race.†† You need to be like Paul who spurred on less mature believers like Timothy and Titus, and you need to be like Timothy and Titus, looking for encouragement from someone like a Paul.
4. What should believers do when they gather and how should they do it?† Just like we learned about the Great commission, believers are free to gather in whatever ways makes sense, as long as it is done within the bounds of scripture.†† The New Testament tells us that early believers gathered for teaching, fellowship, singing, eating meals, praying, and sharing in the Lordís Supper.† They met in homes, temple courts, and on hillsides.† This passage encourages believers to think outside of the box if necessary to find ways to gather.† Consider it means to think intentionally and creatively about it.† Not in just how or where to gather, but whom we should be gathering with.† These verses encourage believers to look for other believers that arenít gathering as they should and bring them into the fold.† Yes, hugs, handshakes, and pep talks are good, but we must also encourage one another by ensuring they are equipped with the resources and weapons they need for their spiritual race.
5. What is the evidence of an effective gathering of believers?† Some might think an effective gathering is one that raises enough money to meet a budget.† Some might think the emotional high they feel when walking out the door afterwards proves it was effective.† Thatís not what the Bible says.† Whether or not a gathering of believers was effective is proven through the love and good deeds they display when they are apart.† Each person that gathered should be more able and willing to show love and good deeds in the worlds they go after the gathering.† What is the most loving thing any of us could do - participate in the Great commission, and bring the good news of Jesus to people who need it.
6. When does gathering with believers become increasingly important?† It is especially important in the ďlast daysĒ.† This isnít a warning to get all your meetings in now, before Jesus comes.† Instead, this is warning in the last days there will be a dramatic shift in our culture.† One of the shifts will be less acceptance of Christianity.† As a result, Christians will need to continue to band together.
What would Racing to Win look like if you and I were passionate about participating in the Great Commission and were creatively intentional in our gatherings of believers?† Iím about to show you.
In the automobile racing world of NASCAR, the race to the championship involves a few races at the end of the season, where with each passing race, more drivers are eliminated from contention.† The scene in this video took place on Sunday, October 30th during the second to last race of the season at Martinsville speedway in Virginia.† This racetrack is a short, Ĺ mile, flat track, shaped like a paper clip.†† Racing around this track involves going as fast as you can on the straightaways, then slowing down dramatically in the turns, so you donít spin out.† Passing other cars can be tricky.† If you attempt to go around a car on the right, your car will drift up the track. If you attempt to go around a car on the left, you could bump into them, causing you both to spin out of control.
For the vast majority of drivers in this race, where they finish has no bearing on whether they can win the championship, they are already eliminated from that possibility.† Three drivers have clinched their spot in the final championship race to be held the following week, so it does not matter where they finish in this particular race.† This video is all about two specific cars, the purple, orange, and white #11 and the red #1.† These two cars are competing for one remaining spot in the championship race. On this last lap of the race, car #11 has a comfortable lead over car #1.† In the driverís mind, he has concluded he will be moving on to the championship race the following week.† On the other hand, the driver of car #1 knows that time is running out.† He knows that he must do something drastic if he wants to overtake car #11 and claim the 4th spot in the championship race.† What you are about to witness is not reckless abandon.† This racer makes use of what the rules of his sport allow, his racing experience, the laws of physics and his great desire to win.††
What does it look like when the truth and good news of Christ makes it off the pages of the Bible, into our heart and minds, and then on to other people? What does it look like when a believer or group of believers recognize that time is running out, and makes use of knowledge, passion, and creativity to be victorious in their spiritual race?